One of the nice things about A. Lange & Söhne is how little noise they make about how much goes into their watches. Every year a few thousand timepieces –a bare handful, by the modern standards of mass luxury behemoths, who leverage their name recognition into the sale of millions of units of God knows what, in the name of the almighty shareholder –make their way from a small town in what used to be East Germany, called Glashütte, to those few around the world who are lucky enough to know about Lange & Söhne and who have the confidence, as well as the wallet, to buy the very best without consideration for the opinions of others. The Lange & Söhne approach to watchmaking is diffident almost to a fault, but the excellence of their watches –both in performance and in the amount of care that’s lavished on each one; for Lange, there is no such thing as an “entry-level” watch –has made them famous among those who really understand watchmaking, and who care more about quality than about wearing something that signals high net worth to as many as possible.
Still, that doesn’t mean that Lange & Söhne’s watches are devoid of imagination, it just means that even the most inventive of their watches exhibits the characteristic German exhaustive attention to detail that’s their birthright. The most recent timepiece from this small but significant firm is a variation on the theme. The recently introduced Lange & Söhne “Zeitwerk” watch is a most unusual jumping hours and minutes watch –there are no conventional hands, except for the large running seconds dial at 6:00, balanced by the power reserve indication above the “time bridge” that’s both a part of the dial and an integral component of the movement. Though it wears its complexity lightly, the Zeitwerk requires extreme care in manufacture, construction and adjustment in order to ensure that at the exact moment the seconds hand reaches the transition from one minute to the next at the top of the hour, all three indications jump exactly simultaneously.
The Zeitwerk has been issued in several versions, including a very eerily beautiful luminous version, and one that strikes on the quarter hour and the hour. The latest and in some ways most spectacular is the Handswerkskunst limited edition. As the name implies virtually every surface of the watch has been given an unusual, manually applied finish. The dial of the watch at first glance appears to have been sandblasted, but a close inspection reveals that the apparently random pattern is actually made up of thousands of minute, hand engraved indentations produced by a technique known as “tremblage.”
The movement, as is typical of A. Lange & Söhne watches, is made of untreated German silver, or maillechort, which despite the name contains no silver but is, instead, an alloy of copper, nickel, and zinc. Hand-engraved lettering and hand engraving on the balance and escape wheel cocks are another distinguishing feature, and finally, in addition to the superb finissage lavished on the mechanism (in the usual high Lange & Söhne style) the escape wheel and lever are made of hardened 18 karat gold, a material favored for these components –usually made of steel –by makers of high precision watches in the era pre-dating modern antimagnetic alloys.
The Zeitwerk was and remains one of Lange & Söhne’s most unusual watches –one in which the elaborate mechanism is placed at the service of a unique visual effect. In the Zeitwerk Handswerkunst watch, it becomes a very special –and very exclusive –variation on the original, sophisticated theme.
The A. Lange & Söhne Zeitwerk Handswerkunst watch is limited to 30 pieces worldwide, and can only be obtained through one of the few Lange & Söhne boutiques, which are at the time of this writing located in Dresden, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Korea, Japan, and the United Arab Emirates. Approximate price in US dollars, $111,500.